Strange Days (1995; directed by Kathryn Bigelow)

I discovered this movie on video, and have watched it three or four times, but I recently had a chance to see it in a theater (The BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, with a wide screen and a good sound system) and, if you happen to get the chance, it rewards the extra effort and expense. Even on video, though, it's well worth seeing. The plot is very complex, but you always know what's going on and what it means (the script was written by James Cameron).

A futuristic technology allows people to record and experience pieces of other people's lives (or to endlessly replay favorite parts of their own). Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a former cop, buys and sells these (illegal) "clips," which are sort of the ultimate combination of drug and virtual reality. A friend of his, a hooker named Iris, is being chased by two cops, but then she is murdered in a hotel room by someone who records the experience and gives the playback to Lenny so he can experience it, too. Plus Lenny is still mooning around over Faith, his ex-girlfriend who left him for Philo Gant, a record producer whose most important act, a very political black rap artist, has just been murdered. And then Lenny's car is towed and he has to impose yet again on his friend Mase, a limo driver who ends up serving as his bodyguard (and his conscience) as well as his chauffeur. All this plus it's a love story, and it takes place on the last day and night of the twentieth century.

Ralph Fiennes captures the exact nature of this moment of Lenny's descent. No actor makes weakness more compelling than Fiennes (I wish I'd seen his Hamlet), and Angela Bassett makes Mase convincing whether she's scolding Lenny, kicking serious ass defending him, or just watching her young son play. Many people found Juliette Lewis annoying (especially when singing her PJ Harvey songs), but (as usual) I thought she was terrific.

By the way, the reviews of this were a little off, at least the ones I read, and that may have had something to do with why it wasn't more successful. They focused on the virtual reality aspect, and on the whole 12/31/99 end-of-the-century thing, but not on the other main plot which involved an outspoken rapper who is killed by two LA cops (the evidence is on one of those little disks), and the possibility of the end of the century turning into a race war if this should come out. People looking for a special-effects virtual-reality fun ride weren't going to be pleased by this rather dense and serious movie, which has a lot more in common with Lone Star (for example) than with "The Matrix."

Also Recommended:

With Juliette Lewis: Natural Born Killers, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

With Tom Sizemore: Natural Born Killers, Devil in a Blue Dress, Saving Private Ryan

With Vincent D'Onofrio: Ed Wood

With Michael Wincott: Alien Resurrection


Best of 1999 / Best of the Decade

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